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Running – The Magic of the Long Slow Distance

by Gee Ess

The Long Run is what puts the Tiger in the Cat – Bill Squires

Come Friday and my running groups on Whatsapp and Facebook suddenly become hyperactive! The common thread – ‘What are you doing this weekend ?’ and before I can reply… pat comes the next – ‘Lets do a  LSD (Long Slow Distance) run. Slowish ?’ Personally, I find the term ‘LSD’ really catchy ; it is one of the most reliable ways of getting the elusive “Runner’s High” !

What is the LSD run ?   The idea is to run for a long distance or duration at a slow pace. It promises to improve your aerobic endurance, increase muscular and joint strength, running efficiency and willpower…or to put it simply… improve your ability to run longer and faster with less effort….but…the idea of ‘Run Slow to Run Fast’ sounds counter-intuitive. Time to understand and tame this animal….

Who is Doing the LSD Run ?

  • 80 % of Mo Farah’s weekly training mileage of 120 plus miles is at an easy running pace.
  • The famed Kenyan long-distance runners do 85% of their runs at easy or recovery pace.
  • Elite Japanese marathoners run 200 miles or more per week. Along with the big miles is a willingness to take recovery runs as easy as needed, sometimes as slow as a walk.

How to Run the LSD ?

  • Minimum duration 1 hr, max 3 hrs. Preferable to run by time rather than distance.
  • Keep the pace 1 to 3 min per km slower than your 10 km pace.
  • Upto three LSDs per week during your base or initial training phase and one/week in the later phases.
  • Increase distance by not more than 10 % per week. It is beneficial to cut back the distance by 25-50% once a month.

How to Maintain the Correct Pace ?    Surprisingly… running slow is NOT EASY ! Our slow pace tends to creep up into the ‘moderate pace’ or our running comfort zone and sabotages the gains of the LSD. Four techniques:-

  • By Heart Rate. Run at 60-70% of your max heart rate or in the aerobic heart rate zone. You need at heart rate monitor or an HR equipped running watch for this. Click here for a detailed article on HR running.
  • By Pace. As mentioned above – run at a pace 1 to 3 mins per km slower than your 10 Km pace. A GPS running watch or a mobile phone app does the job.
  • The Talk Test.   You should be able to talk comfortably at the LSD pace. You are running too fast if you can hear yourself breathe !
  • The Slow Running Buddy. Find a buddy who runs slow or has mastered the art of LSD to keep your natural pace in check. I find this the most natural and the happiest. Social running and bonding at its best. I am sure that a lot of you will smile at this one.

When to Expect Results ?   Beginners and runners returning from a layoff/injury will take 4-8 weeks before seeing any significant gains. The body takes time to learn how to use fat as fuel and perform at a lower heart rate. But soon you will see a dramatic increase in your stamina. Combine it with intervals and tempo runs post the base phase (aerobic endurance development phase) to see dramatic results.

Drawbacks and Pitfalls.   Like everything, the law of diminishing returns applies here too. Best results are seen by beginners and recreational runners while elites and speed enthusiasts need to add strength, speedwork and tempos to get their targets. That said, the underlying principle of any distance running programme is strong aerobic fitness. The two pitfalls to avoid are not running at the correct pace and not enough weekly mileage !

Do it right and the MAGIC WILL HAPPEN ! The combination of long distance and slow running is hard and it is painful….but you are an endurance athlete….you thrive on challenges…you understand that it is a game of patience, sweat and hardwork….you will conquer any target, any goal….and you will look yourself in the mirror and say….I am a long distance runner.

“There will come a day when I can no longer run. Today is not that day.” —Unknown

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Always looking for the next big high -physical, social, intellectual or spiritual, Gee Ess got hooked onto endurance running with ADHM 2014. A multitude of full and half marathons since then, he enjoys penning down the intriguing nuances of running that go beyond and hit the mind of a runner.

Two quotes define him:

Life begins outside your comfort zone

Dreams are not those which come in your sleep. They are the ones which don’t let you sleep 

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E.T.SATHYABALAN February 17, 2017 - 11:40 am

Good and useful article for a long distance runner!

Gee Ess February 28, 2017 - 2:42 pm

Thank you Sir. Glad that you appreciate our efforts


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